What are Hakkas?

Discussions on the Hakka dialects.
Dylan Sung

Re: What are Hakkas?

Post by Dylan Sung »

Ancient texts tell us that there was no one homogenous language, but many dialects already spoken even during the early Han Dynasty. The Chinese author Yang Xiong 59BC- 18AD wrote a book called Fangyan or "Dialects". It was also commented in even older texts that each region of the Zhou confederate of states that there were different pronunciations and words for things. Given this fact, there has always been a number of dialects cohabiting.

The famous reconstructions of Qieyun which was a rhyme dictionary published in 601 AD was the product of not just one dialect, but sourced its data from dialects from a number of areas. Scholars today believe it to be a compromise between the literary pronunciations of northern and southern pronunciations of the NanbeiChao (Northern and Southern Dynasty) period.

This is why one can derive a common ancestry between all the Chinese dialects, such as Hakka, Yue, Min (in its various forms), Wu, Xiang, Gan and the Mandarin dialects. Qieyun was a compromise, a Middle Chinese record of many pronunciations centered around the northern and southern courts of Yexia and Jinling respectively.

Old Chinese which was derived from Middle Chinese would similarly be a mishmash, because of the extrapolation involved getting from a fixed recorded point in Qieyun. and the use of phonological rules to get to the OC reconstruction. There are many reconstructions of both MC and OC, the reason being, each scholar who derive them take a slightly different premise and arrive at slightly different pronunciations. Reconstructions like Karlgren, Pulleybank, Chao, Baxter, Li etc...

Hakka can derive a tradition from MC because it has regular phonological correspondences with MC. For instance, we know that there used to be voiced initials called QuanZhou initials. In Hakka they survive as aspirated initials. Hakka retains the majority of the endings represented in QY, that is, it has syllables which correspond to the rhymes ending in -m, -n, -ng, -p, -t, -k. Where it has characters which are no longer pronounced in the same tone category as those listed in Qieyun, there are regular phonological correspondences between the class of characters which have entered another tone.

All dialects of Chinese exhibit these things. There are regular rules for the way a tone splits depending on the voicing of an initial, and even the derivation of modern initials from QY which depend on the medial and rhyme.

Given the fact also that Hakka retains many features not seen since before the mid-Tang period when it is believed that such features changed, such as the appearance of the bilabial fricative inital f, and its ancestor p which in combination with MC medial w gives rises to modern pronunciations of f- in most dialects, Hakka retains words which are spoken with the bilabilal plosive p.

For instance, the reading is modern Hakka found between //, whilst M. stands for mandarin

fat /p'ui/ M. fei
fly /pui/ M. fei
give /pun/ M. fen
nightsoil /pun/ M. fen
to place /piong/ M. fang
float /piau/ M. fou

It retains a dental fricative although devoiced

middle /tung sim/ M. zhong xin
know /ti/ M. zhi

It also retains features such as vowel dipthongs which are also a feature of Mandarin, but less so in Cantonese, the latter exhibiting long vowels instead. In fact, Hakka has multiple readings, featuring colloquial and literary readings,

Spring gravesweeping /ts'iang miang/,/ts'in min/ M. qingming
star /siang/,/sin/ M. xing

Whatever Hakka ancestry was in the past, Hakka of today are part of the Chinese sphere of culture. It may exhibit one facet of the past, but it is not divorced from the rest of Chinese culture.

As for whether Korean or Japanese ancestry was involved, I would say not likely in the last couple of millenia. The general areas from where Hakka are said to come from (zhongyuan) or Central Plains, is well within the border of China. To the best of my knowledge, there has never been a mass migration of Japanese to Chinese shores until the last 100 years, and the scholars who came to China during the Tang would not be significant anyway. We also should bear in mind that Tang China was a cosmopolitan place, with people from all over the world, and during its time, it had many different faiths whilst not particularly espousing one.

Hakka are Chinese.



Re: What are Hakkas?

Post by Chaconne »

While there abound many theories about the origins of the Hakka people. Linguistically speaking they undoubtedly speak a Sinitic language, i.e. the Hakka language is a member of the family of languages which includes also Mandarin (with its various regional forms), Wu (Shanghainese and the other related dialects), Min (primarily of Fujian, with two sub-families of Minbei and Minnan), Yue (Cantonese and its variants), Hakka (dispersed mainly in Fujian, Guangdong, Jiangxi), Gan (the chief linguistic group in Jiangxi), and Xiang (the chief language of Hunan). Studies of the languages only served to confirm that all of the same family just as French, Spanish, Italian, Rumanian & Portuguese are members of the Romance languages.

These are quite distinct from Korean, Japanese, Mongol, Manchu, Vietnamese, Thai or Tibetan. Of the above, only Tibetan is sometwhat related to Sinitic, and the two are sometimes grouped as the Sino-Tibetan languages. Korean, Japanese and Mongol are Altaic languages. Manchu is a Tungus language. Thai and Vietnamese could be related to the Austro-Asiatic languages of southeast Asia.

The notion of pure Han versus others does not hold water. We are not even sure if the language of Bronze Age Shang dynasty is Chinese as we know it. It is in all likelihood the ancestors of the Chinese people came about only after the Zhou conquest. The Zhou and Shang might not even be ethnically related. During the period of the Warring States, some states (especially south of the Yangzi river) were not even Chinese linguistically.

The colonisation of south China came about only during the Han, and was only really completed during the Tang. The emergence of southern 'dialects' such as Yue or Min was most likely a development resulting from intermarriage between the Chinese migrants and the natives who had become increasingly Sinicized, and this was allowed to develop in isolation due to natural geographical barriers.

These dialects are as different from one another as they are from Hakka. Hakkas could be traced in several waves of migration from northern China to the south and these migrations are directly linked to China's turbulent history. In short, China experienced two long periods of disunity, the first after the Han (3rd century) and the second after the Tang (10th century). The Turkish (Khitans etc.), Tungus (Jin, Manchu etc) and Mongols variously occupied the north, forcing hundreds of thousands to flee south especially during the late Song (13th century). Being latecomers, the Hakkas had to settle in the hill-regions. This led to a pattern of general poverty and constant migration.

Strictly speaking, these migrants to the south did not really take on a distinct characteristic probably until the early Ming dynasty (15th century) when they reached Fujian and Guangdong. There have been frequent fight over land between Hakkas and the other southerners, leading to mutual emnity and name-calling, including branding Hakkas as 'non-Chinese'. In fact, Hakkas have been found to be especially closely related to the Gan people of Jiangxi. liinguistically speaking.

There's no point in singling out one group or other as 'non-Chinese' or 'barbarian'. All southern Chinese were known as 'southern-barbarians' before they were assimilated during the late Han dynasty anyway. What is defined as Chinese? As far as I know Chinese defines a group of people which share a common culture, much like the term European. And this group undoubtly include all Sinitic peoples.

Sim Lee

Re: What are Hakkas?

Post by Sim Lee »


Thank you very much for your interesting post.

I found 3 statements to be particularly interesting, not to say startling!

1. We are not even sure if the language of Bronze Age
Shang dynasty is Chinese as we know it.
2. It is in all likelihood the ancestors of the Chinese people
came about only after the Zhou conquest.
3. The Zhou and Shang might not even be ethnically related.

I have never seen this said anywhere else (not that I'm particularly knowledgeable or widely read in this field), so I'll really love to know more about this.

Do you (or anyone else reading this) have any references to books where this is explained / discussed?



Re: What are Hakkas?

Post by Chaconne »


I read these in a History book on ancient China some years ago. Unfortunately I cannot remember its name. I found it to be much more believeable and realistic than the notion of a pure, noble race developing in isolation a glorious civilization surrounded by barbarians. Its too much like the 19th century Nationalists of Europe, and ultimately like the Nazis. This concept probably is no earlier than the Han dynasty when the pattern of 'civilized China' fighting 'Mongol barbarians' became established, and when the Chinese identity had by then become very distinct. We can compare this with contemporary Imperial Rome, where the Celtic Gauls had become proud Roman citizens by the time the Germanic 'barbarians' were invading the Empire.

Studies on ancient Middle-East and Egypt both show developments of different peoples merging and adopting one another's cultures are common in the earlier parts of history. The Sumerians were conquered by the Akkadians who were unrelated to them. But the Semitic Akkadians adopted Sumerian culture and writing almost wholesale. Akkadians eventually replaced Sumerians as the inhabitants there.

The rise of Ancient Egypt is associated with the appearance of the Gerzean culture, which showed many Middle-eastern origins. Yet the emerging culture was a distinctly localised development coming from the interactions of the natives and the immigrant populations.

The Shang people were originators of the Yellow River culture, and this culture was appropriated by the Zhou people almost wholesale. As the Shang script was of a hieroglyphic nature rather than alphabetic, it would be possible for the Zhou to adopt the script without much modification even if they were not of the same ethnic group. The Shang script does not tell us much about the spoken language of the people. We don't know how the ideograms were pronounced. Neither do we know how the Shang are related to the more ancient neolithic Yangshao and Longshan cultures.

The book did mention that during the days of the Shang, the plains around the Yellow River were populated by tribes related to modern Tibetans and Thais, and the writer's theory was that Shang and Zhou Chinese were probably hybrid peoples that arose from the interaction of these tribes. Further contributions would have come from the ancestors of the Turkish and Mongolian peoples who lived in the north and west of the plains. It is from this melting pot that the Chinese as a distinct people began to emerge, perhaps during days of the little known Western Zhou dynasty. It was only during the late Western Zhou that the writing become recognizable as Chinese. But if Confucius went on air today and spoke a sermon, how many of us would know what he was talking about? The pronounciations have all changed so much, as have the grammar and vocabulary.

The growth of the civilization exerted a continual influence on neighbouring peoples who became assimilated into the more advanced culture. In the days of the Warring States the people of Qin and of Yue were looked upon as only marginally or partially Chinese. But eventually the majority of the people in 'China Proper' had adopted the culture and the language (in the form of dialects). Thus who can be said to be the original Chinese?

Thousands of Turkish and Mongol conquerors have been assimilated, as have thousands of Yue tribes in the south (No offence to the Cantonese, this ancient term of Yue is presented by the Chinese character for Viet in Vietnam and is used generally as a term to describe the southern 'barbarians'). But the reality is that the majority of the population in the Empire consisted of descendents of assimilated 'barbarians' whether from the north or south. In the far edges of the ancient Empire, the assimilation was only partial. Thus the Vietnamese and Koreans retained their distinct spoken languages even though culturally they have been subjected to much influence. This explains the plurality and cosmopolitan nature of Chinese culture and we should treasure the rich differences as well as similarities we find across this great civilization.

Some Hakkas claim that their spoken tongue was the original Chinese, just as some Cantonese do. The reality is that all languages are growing and changing over time. It is a dead language that could preserve everything intact. Just as the Yellow-River Chinese have evolved with influences from the Turks and Mongols, the southern dialects have evolved with influences from languages of the conquered population. No one can claim that their tongue is the original, unadulterated one. What one can do, which many linguists do, is to use the numerous offshoot languages (including unrelated ones like Japanese, Korean or Vietnamese) to try and reconstruct the Chinese languages of the Han and Tang dynasties as they sounded like.

Few history books write about the true origins of the Chinese civilization because their writers are still often steeped in old Nationalistic ideas. Some books still tell you that the Chinese civilization started with HuangDi and the other legendary figures. The fact is that as far as archeology is concerned, the Chinese civilization is no more than 4000 years old, as opposed to the traditional claim of 5000. Pride has to do with this more than anything else. But then many old nations perpetuate this kind of self-deception. Japan, for example claimed a 'history' of more than 2600 years. But the neolithic Yayoi culture only appeared there about 200BC and real history only about 300AD. There are many other guilty nations who similarly manufacture their history.


Re: What are Hakkas?

Post by Chaconne »


I need to further clarify my description of the Shang language as not being Chinese 'as we know it'. The writing is strictly Chinese in the sense that it is the ancestor of the modern Chinese script. But the grammatical structures cannot be clearly seen from the Oracle Bones, nor the pronounciation of the spoken tongue be clearly deduced. Thus we cannot conclusively say for sure that Shang is Chinese. But the late Zhou inscriptions are definitely Chinese 'as we know it' in a very archaic form.

The author of the book had theories about the numerous inhabitants of pre-Shang (and Shang) China being mainly of the Sino-Tibetan or Thai families of languages. This might or might not be entirely true. But Sinitic is a branch of Sino-Tibetan, making it very possible to have shared roots with the Tibetans. Scholars debate about the relationship between Chinese and Thai. The prevailing opinion is that these are groups which, though not closely related, have lived in close proximity and thus have mutually influenced each other leading to some similarities which could lead to some thinking that they could be related. This does not mean that Chinese does not contain Thai elements (or vice versa). Thus Chinese would be very much an amalgam of Sino-Tibetan elements with strong Thai influence and additional Altaic influence.

The posting made just before my first mentioned about Hakka being a branch of Middle-Chinese. This would be very true since they have become a distinct community only during the Yuan period. Note also that most southern Chinese call themselves Tang Chinese rather than Han Chinese. This implies that they were fully assimilated during the Tang rather than the Han period, unlike the north.

Another point is that much of the Shang or Xia dynasty 'history' consists of materials written in the Spring & Autumn period, which are open to question given their lateness. Should we take, for example, Homer's Illiad and Odessy as history of the Mycenean Greek bronze age civilization? Or the Bible's King Solomon? There are truths to be sieved from these 'histories' but it is no easy task to separate them from the accompanying fiction.


Re: What are Hakkas?

Post by ppk »


the written history of china is ard 3800 yrs old, meaning the earliest writings found at achaeology sites dates back to 3800 yrs ago. but chinese civilisation doesnt stop there. it also depends on your standards of a 'civilisation'. wad make it counted as a civilisation and wad doesnt? if u say the ppl had a fixed area of residence, a city, a market place and a place of worship, i wouldnt be surprise the chinese can claim their civilisation started like 7000yrs back.


Re: What are Hakkas?

Post by loki »

..............................ppk, you're wrong. in fact , cantonese are purely chinese and it's not through assimilation like you said. i guess i am right in this subject.|..........................................................................#*].

Stephen Leung

Re: What are Hakkas?

Post by Stephen Leung »

As far as I know, if you look at the Hakka people's foot (last one), you can find something different. It was said that the Hakka are real 龍的傳人。

Dylan Sung

Re: What are Hakkas?

Post by Dylan Sung »

Descendents of Dragons? You mean of royal ancestry? What has feet to do with it? How many Hakka feet have you been looking at? How come no one else has made a fuss about studying Hakka feet? I find the though amusing at best.



Re: What are Hakkas?

Post by Aaron »

As far as I concern, origins of the Japanese and korean can be related to the Hakkas. Although claimed that Hakka were pure han chinese but actually the resembles much of the Xiongnu features rather than the 'han' chinese features...There's no doubts that, the original speaker of Altaic languages originated from far north China as there's evidence that most of this tribes moved westward when Han Dynasty successfuly repelled the xiongnu's invasion...Probably those xiongnus who moved westward formed the modern 'turkish' countries. I personally, done the test before comparing a hakka, a mongolian, a japanese and a korean...Among those 4 races, all 4 of them have small eyes, extreme shallow eye socket, same nose shape and mouth shape...Although it may sound a little fake but compared to the yue chinese and han chinese (north), their eyesocket are a little deeper, medium-sized eye and their mouth shape differs...Physically, mongolian seems to be much more bigger and taller than the japanese,korean and hakkas however this may due to their diet, an ancient japanese eats fish and rice while an ancient mongolian eats lamb and horse meat...This may lead to the asnwer of why Ancient/Pre WWII Japanese are short...Besides that Japanese is ain't an altaic language, although it resembles much of the altaic languages aspect but she doesn't has the core of an altaic language, the vowel harmony...Although Japanese has many suffixes but she doesn't has vowel harmony at all! Therefore we can't assumed that Japanese is an Altaic language, probably the suffixes came from Korean that influenced Japan more than what the Chinese does...Actually it sounded a lil' long but what I'm trying tell is: Japanese is ain't an altaic language, Hakka(s) are most likely the decendants of the Xiongnu(s), Japanese and Hakka(s) are related.



Re: What are Hakkas?

Post by tojia »

another new name for sum won is -- aaron.still make trouble here. my father friend, their eye is bigger.

FM Liew

Re: What are Hakkas?

Post by FM Liew »

Something which I've read about the Shang people.
It says that quite a number of Shang people have dark complexion.

I not surprise that Shang people were originated from India.
Anyway, Shang culture is still alive in todays Chinese culture.

FM Liew

User avatar
Posts: 13
Joined: Wed Sep 24, 2008 4:27 pm

Re: What are Hakkas?

Post by winniebree »

Matt...where did you get that kind of information?
Hakka people are Han people...
If you want to win a game, you have to play it.


Posts: 2
Joined: Fri Jan 28, 2011 7:58 pm

Re: What are Hakkas?

Post by aocitizen »

I have heard that although Hakka is derived from Middle Chinese, it may have Tai elements as well, since it is near to the Tai homeland of Fukien; is this true? I think it is very interesting what you said about the Shang, and very true too. After the Indo-Europeans invaded India in 1500 BCE, Dravidian people in northeast India fled from them into Yunnan, and from there descended the Yangtze unti they reached Jiangsu, which they settled in large numbers. The native inhabitants were Australoid Shang/Dongyi people, who spoke a Daic dialect. This became fused with Dravidian in that area. Before the arrival of the Sinitic Huaxia in around 2500 BCE, the Huang He river valley was inhabited by Old Tais, Old Viets, and Hmongics. The conquering Huaxia imposed their Sinitic language on them and created a unified polity, the Old Chinese Kingdom in its earliest form. But in Shandong and Jiangsu, the Shang/Dongyi people remained independent for centuries to come. Some Huaxia-acculturated Shang from the east of the kingdom eventually deposed the Xia Dynasty. The first Shang, or Yin, rulers were called the Black Shang, because they were Australoids. The Shang Dynasty was overthrown by the western Zhou, who also conquered Shandong and Jiangsu. Around 500 BCE, the semi-Dravidian people of Jiangsu migrated across the Yellow Sea to Paekche in Korea, where they mixed with the native Tungusics. In 300 BCE, some of these Tunguso-Dravidians who became known as the Yayoi people invaded Japan from Paekche, conquering it and unifying it. They also contributed the Dravidian substratum which sets Japanese apart from the other Altaic languages. Japanese has been described as an Altaic creole. Does Hakka have a strand of Old Viet as well? And were the original inhaabitants of the Hakka area Australoid?

Posts: 2
Joined: Fri Jan 28, 2011 7:58 pm

Re: What are Hakkas?

Post by aocitizen »

Incidentally, the Zhou people were western Huaxia mixed with the Rong people. The Rongs were a nation of mixed Altaic and Tocharian origin; many of them had red hair and green eyes, because the Tocharians had come to Kansu from Europe. The Zhou probably learned the art of mounted archery from the sedentary Rong, which aided them in their conquest of Shang China. The separate Sinitic branch of Sino-Tibetan is thought to have arisen in Yunnan, when Tibetan migrants combined with Old Viets and Old Malays to create a new language, proto-Sinitic, and a new people, the Huaxia. The Bai people who still live in Yunnan may be the descendents of those Huaxia who opted to remain in the southwest when most of their brethren moved east and north around 2500 BCE. This move was probably prompted by a massive Daic invasion of Yunnan from the east. The semi-legendary Xuanyuan led the Huaxia through the Szechuan Basin, up the Jailing River, and into the Wei River valley, from which they conquered the various Shang/Dongyi tribes of the Huang He area. The first rulers of the new Huaxia state were the Xia Dynasty, the descendents of Xuanyuan. The following Yin Dynasty of Shang origin were like the Welsh Tudor Dynasty of England, kings descended from the nobles of the conquered people ruling the conquered, but speaking their language. The Shang lasted much longer than the Tudors, and were more important to the development of their country. Sino-Tibetan itself is thought to have originated at the headwaters of the Yangtze, in the Kunlun Mountains. I do not think that the Hakka are descended from the Hsiung-Nu, who lived in the far northwest and Mongolia. This Turkish-Mongolian tribe migrated west to Europe and became Attila's famous Huns. The present-day Bulgarian and Chuvash peoples are the descendents of the Hsiung-Nu/Huns, and the Hungarians also have a Hunnic strain. I think that the Hakkas are mostly Han Chinese, but mixed with Daic and Vietic peoples.